By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Slip-sliding with the Red Sox

David Ortiz

It’s way too early to write off the Red Sox. The starting pitching, relievers Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard, and the defense are all going to be fine. Early-season aberrations are nothing to worry about.

What does make me worry are bad things that were eminently predictable. A soft bullpen. Poor defense by catcher Victor Martinez. And, more than anything, weak offense led by the all-but-finished designated hitter, David Ortiz.

The Sox are going to have to get by with Martinez as catcher, and in any case he’s no worse than Jorge Posada. But the hitting? They’re two hitters away.

Getting that first hitter may be as easy as benching Ortiz and replacing him with some combination of Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida.

The second hitter? I imagine Theo is hoping Clay Buchholz can string together enough decent starts so that he can unload him for a good bat.

As it stands, I could easily see this team not making the playoffs. I know: Sounds like I am writing them off, doesn’t it? But I’m counting on Theo making some adjustments.

Photo (cc) by Googie Man and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Original at Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. BP Myers

    I’m shocked that folks have both declared Bard ready and all but annointed him heir to Papelbon.

    Yes, he’s very good, but I predict this year for Bard will be like last year was for Masterson, like it is for most every second year pitcher, a step backward, because he’s been around the league a few times now and hitters are going to make adjustments.

    And when he’s banged around (and he will be), then he’ll be the one who needs to make adjustments. I predict he will . . . but not all do.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: Masterson simply doesn’t throw that hard. Bard is going to be a fine set-up man this year. And if Papelbon rides into the Yankee sunset? No worries about Bard as the closer in 2011.

  2. BP Myers

    @Dan: If he doesn’t have second year struggles, he will be among an elite few. Not hoping for it, just expecting it.

  3. Christian Avard

    I’m giving David Ortiz until June 1 to get it together. After that, Terry Francona needs to make a decision.

    I’m taking my son to next Sunday’s game vs. Baltimore. If the Orioles take that series then all hope is lost for this season.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: I just don’t think the Red Sox can give Ortiz the first two months off every year. I’d give him till May 1, and I’d consider releasing him after that. Yes, he “came back” after June 1 last year, but despite a lot of homers and RBIs, he was not feared. He went from being an astounding clutch hitter to basically a garbage-time guy who ran up his stats against mediocre pitching. I look forward to David Ortiz Day at Fenway Park. It will be well-deserved, and it will also mean he’ll have retired.

  4. Steve Stein

    There you go again, Dan, bloviating beyond your experience. 🙂

    Last year, even with the Ortiz drought, the Red Sox were scoring almost 1.5 runs more per game. They weren’t doing it with power, they were doing it with baserunners. It’s really too early to look at individual stats, but this is what you would expect from the difference between Bay/Lowell and this year’s Cameron/Beltre.

    I don’t really think Ortiz is done – his start this year is about the same as last, but this year he has more power (but fewer walks and more strikeouts). Maybe he’ll get hot like last year, maybe not.

    The reduced offense is “by design”. We were supposed to make up for it in “runs prevented”, but in 11 games this year, we have as many UNEARNED runs as all of April last year. As a result, we’re giving up as many runs this year, even though the team ERA is a half-run lower.

    Oh, and Bard ain’t no closer, at least not yet. I’d say he might be decent next year, but I’d rate that no better than 50-50.

    Here are the numbers:
    The Sox have played 11, half of what they played last March/April.

    Offense (April 2009):
    G 11 (22)
    R 47 (126)
    HR 14 (26)
    OBP .324 (.364)
    OPS .771 (.827)
    BAbip .292 (.310)

    Even though the power is about the same, fewer baserunners = fewer runs

    R 54 (107)
    ER 45 (99)
    ERA 4.05 (4.52)

    Pitching seems better, but many more unearned runs.

  5. Bill Hanna

    The Boston writers who are with the team every day say that Ortiz can no longer hit good pitching, and he’s an automatic out for any lefthander. Certainly some of that opinion is informed by teammates who know what they’re talking about but don’t want to go on the record. In any event, Theo and Francona can’t wait much longer. Plus, Lowell is a producer and a fan favorite who deserves a chance to prove that he can DH. My guess is that something will happen sooner rather than later with Ortiz.

  6. LFNeilson

    OMG, it’s Patriots’ Day and the season’s over already! Betcha nobody would believe me if I said it’s just a game.

  7. Jack Sullivan

    Dan, our 3rd base grandstand seats have a perfect line view of home, especially the lefthanded batter’s box and since last year Ortiz looks like he’s guessing on every pitch. He’s got a hitch in his swing like he’s moving on every motion and has more checked swings (or not, depending on the umpire)than any player I’ve ever seen.
    That said, he is certainly not THE problem this year. There’s problems everywhere. When your #2 hitter and backup catcher have more than half your homeruns, five of your nine starters are hitting under .240 with three under .200 and only one of your corner infielders or outfielders has an OPS above .700, your offense is anemic.
    The pitching staff as a whole is averaging 17.2 pitches per inning pitched, meaning they’re constantly pitching into hitters counts and the slugging and OBA shows it.
    In the field, 7 of the 9 errors so far have been committed by players new to the team this year and the other two are by a pitcher and VMart.
    But worst of all, this team is 1-5 at Fenway. What park was this team built for? I’m not ready to bail but there’s plenty to be worried about even this early. To paraphrase Nicholson, “This team needs an enema.”

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Jack: No, Ortiz isn’t THE problem, but it’s frustrating that the Sox chose to go into the season with a DH who everyone knew was pretty much washed up. Many of the other problems you cite will correct themselves.

  8. Mike Benedict

    @Dan: Way, way too early to be fanning these flames. Red Sox go 4-8 in a stretch in the middle of the season, no one notices. They do it to start the season, everyone has a cow. Quick: What was their record after 12 games last season? What about in 2008? Hot starts are not the hallmark of this team. Consider this: Between July 18 and July 29 last year, the Sox went 3-8. But since their record at the end of that slide was 58-42, it wasn’t seen as a big deal. Between Aug 4 and Aug Aug, they went 4-9. That dropped their record to 66-51. From there on out, they went 29-16.

    While many have made much of the supposed weak hitting this year, most reliable forecasters have the team finishing second or third in runs scored in 2010. Given the automatic outs last year (Lugo, Gonzalez, Varitek, Lowrie, Green, etc.), people should be ecstatic we’re beyond all that. The bigger problem so far is actually the pitching. The team has allowed 61 runs to date. That’s almost 5 per game, which is too many, and more than last year. Lester has pitched like Sylvester, Beckett almost as bad. The defense isn’t making them walk people.

    Re the bullpen: relief pitching is notoriously unpredictable. If you have figured out how to divine performance, why are you teaching j-school at Northeastern? John Henry would be more than willing to pay you big money to share your knowledge.

    Also, Masterson throws hard, just not Daniel Bard hard. Only a couple people in the majors throw Daniel Bard hard, of course.

    @Jack: Ortiz always has had a hitch in his swing, and he hasn’t been able to hit lefties since 2007 (see below). The bigger issue is when players of Ortiz’s size traditionally start to lose their skills, their performance isn’t a long, slow slide, but a nosedive. (Think Vaughn, Mo.) Further, as players age, they usually sacrifice some BA, walk more, and hit more HRs. That’s probably what we’re seeing.

    Vs LHP:


    @Dan: Ortiz can still pull his weight against righties.
    AB 376 2B 19 HR 22 .250/.346/.827
    What the data say are that he needs to sit against lefties. Bfd. We’ve known that for years.

    @Bill Hanna: Boston writers are lazy no-nothings. One of those same lazy no-nothings told my best friend over lunch last year that Ortiz is older than his birth certificate says and that he was done. This is one of those suppositions that easily could be proved. In god we trust, all others must bring data. (Btw, after he mentioned that, Ortiz went on a tear, hitting 27 HRs and slugging over .500 for the rest of the season.)

    • Dan Kennedy

      Way, way too early to be fanning these flames.

      As I acknowledged, @Mike. But I’m right about Ortiz, I’m right about the lack of another bat, and I’m right about Martinez’s defense. I agree that the rest will sort itself out, but I think it makes sense to wonder whether that’s going to be enough to make it into the post-season. More than anything, I’d like to see if Theo can hoodwink someone into giving him more for Buchholz than he’s worth. I just don’t think he’s got a major-league head.

  9. Steve Stein

    OK, one more sliver of silver lining: strength of schedule: in games not against the Red Sox, Red Sox opponents are a cumulative 24-13 (as of yesterday’s games).

    So the Red Sox have been cold, against teams that are hot. One more reason not to panic. At least until Flag Day.

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